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Education The Faculty Graduate Schools Graduate School Theology and Religious Studies PhD Programme PhD ceremonies Graduations 2006

09-11-'06 | M. Popović

Fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls provide insight into the state of learning in Jesus’ time

The Qumrân Institute of the University of Groningen focuses on the study of the manuscripts found near Qumrân (northwest of the northern tip of the Dead Sea) since 1947. PhD student Mladen Popović investigated two Qumrân texts: a fragmentary Hebrew manuscript (4Q186), uniquely written in ‘code’, and small fragments from an Aramaic manuscript (4Q561). His research is part of a project investigating the central question of how Judaism coped with physical matters such as cleanliness, and how dealing with the body helped define Judaism. The texts Popović has researched provide new insight into the Jewish interest in astrology and also physiognomics – teachings about the human body and their effect on someone’s inner character or fate.

The Hebrew text linked physiognomics and astrology to each other, i.e. it should be possible to gain astrological knowledge about a person on the basis of their bodily characteristics. The nature of someone’s zodiac sign spirit could thus be determined on the basis of their appearance. Old magical texts reveal that these spirits or demons were considered to be very dangerous. The Qumr â n sect may have used the text to keep prospective members outside the group and thus protect themselves against the evil influence of Belial, his demons and the ‘sons of darkness’.

The Aramaic text used physical descriptions to make predictions about the future, as is also known from Babylonian physiognomics. In addition to magic, Jews in Antiquity were also linked to astrology. Abraham, according to one tradition, was taught the principles of astrology by the Egyptians and the Phoenicians. According to a different Jewish tradition, however, astrology was an aberration and a sin. Both Qumr â n texts throw new light onto the role of astrological and physiognomical learning in Jewish culture and religion.

Mladen Popović (Apeldoorn, 1977) studied theology at the University of Groningen. He conducted his PhD research at the Qumr â n Institute of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen and (during the spring of 2004) at Yale University. Popović is now a postdoc at the Faculty of Theology of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. /GG

Date and time

9 November 2006, 2.45 p.m.

PhD student

M. Popović

PhD thesis

Reading the human body: Physiognomics and astrology in the Dead Sea Scrolls and hellenistic-early roman period Judaism


Prof. F. García Martínez

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